GM Unveils Plans for New Compact Buick Sedan

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Buick VeranoGeneral Motors unveiled plans Thursday to build a new compact Buick sedan at an idled plant in Michigan that once built Pontiacs. The automaker will invest $145 million to retool the Orion Assembly plant, which will build the new Buick Verano sedan as well as a yet-unnamed small Chevrolet car, GM said during a press briefing at the plant, about 40 miles north of Detroit.

"The investment in Orion Assembly also extends GM's local small car footprint, again increasing the number of U.S.-made small vehicles available in showrooms," said GM North American President Mark Reuss in prepared remarks at the event, which also included government and union officials.

GM's total investment in the plant is expected to be about $600 million, it said. The company is in the process of retooling the plant, which last built GM midsized sedans, with the improvements expected to be completed by next summer.

The investment to retool the facility will retain 1,550 hourly and salaried jobs at Orion, along with 120 jobs at the Pontiac Metal Center, GM said.

GM declined to provide details about when the Verano or the new small Chevy automobile will begin production or go on sale. Reports suggest the Verano will begin production next summer and go on sale later in the year as a 2012 model.

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The Verano, Spanish for summer, would be Buick's first compact car since the Skylark ceased production in 1998. The car is based on the compact Chevrolet Cruze, built at GM's Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio. GM has big hopes for the Cruze, which is viewed by many as a vast improvement over the Chevy Cobalt it replaced.

Building the more upscale Verano separately ensures GM can meet demand for the Cruze, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday in advance of GM's announcement.

Once it's running, the Orion plant is expected to employ workers on two shifts, building about 160,000 vehicles a year, The Detroit News reported Wednesday. The newspaper noted, however, that not all recalled workers will return at full pay.

As part of a deal struck between United Auto Workers and GM management, employees with less seniority, comprising about 40% of the workforce, will make about half of the $28 an hour that more senior assembly line workers will earn.

Depending on when it arrives in showrooms, the Verano would give dealers a third or fourth Buick sedan to offer customers. In addition to the venerable Lucerne full-size sedan, Buick also makes the recently introduced Regal and revamped LaCrosse. The two new sedans are credited for much of Buick's rise in sales this year, which are up nearly 60%.
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